Czech exiles 1948 - 1952.

It is a very sad fact that the end of the Second World War did not bring peace for everyone. Whilst V.E day and V.J day brought joy and jubilation to our streets the aftermath of the war brought internal conflict to some of the eastern European countries. The Czech pilots for example who had regrouped in the UK following the German occupation of their country and had formed their own much respected squadrons here did not have such happy experiences on their return home. A change to a communist regime meant persecution for a few with some attempting to escape their country. From 1948 to early 1950 a steady trickle of ex Czech airmen arrived at RAF Cardington with a view to re-enlisting. This memo was found attached to the stations records for January 1949 noting the following:

Aug 1948: During the month 84 Czech nationals reported for interview and enlistment. Of these 49 were temporarily deferred and returned to their homes in the United Kingdom. 35 are on strength in the Unit awaiting disposal instructions.

Sept 1948: During the month 9 Czech nationals reported for interview and enlistment. Of these 3 were temporarily deferred and returned to their homes in the United Kingdom. Six were enlisted and 9 posted. During the month one was discharged leaving 27 awaiting disposal instructions.

Oct 1948: During the month 20 Czech nationals reported for interview and enlistment. Of these 2 were temporarily deferred and returned to their homes in the United Kingdom. 18 were enlisted and 12 posted. During the month 3 were discharged leaving 30 awaiting disposal instructions.

Smaller numbers continued to arrive at the station until early 1951.

The memo below was found attached to the stations records for January 1949 noting the following:

"In January 1949 the following article appeared in the Sunday Express. Extract below:

 “IS THIS THE WAY TO TREAT HEROES?” WARTIME ACES NOW SCRUB FLOORS AND WORK AS WAITERS. R.A.F USING CZECH D.S.O’s AND D.F. C’s AS AIRCRAFTSMEN. MEN WHO HELPED US TO FIGHT HITLER AND HAVE ESCAPED STALIN - BY GROUP CAPTAIN H S L DUNDAS D.S.O. D.F.C. **

Through the dark days of the war a very considerable number of Czech airmen fought with us as members of the Royal Air Force with a courage, devotion and glory that was unsurpassed even by our own great airmen. This is a simple statement of how we are rewarding them today.

When Hitler first struck down Czechoslovakia the best Czech pilots and ground crews scattered across the rest of Free Europe to continue the battle for freedom. They were indeed almost the first airmen in it. When Poland was attacked they fought in Poland. When Poland fell they moved to France. In France as part of the French Air Force they did their fair share in trying to dam the Nazi flood flowing westward. When France fell they crossed to Britain.

The RAF received them with joy. They were in the RAF through all the tense days. They were amongst the RAF’s bravest and most skilled fighters. Many rose to Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders. Many D.S.O’s and D.F.C‘s and other bravery awards came to them.

LOVED FREEDOM TOO DEARLY.

The war won the survivors of that gallant force went back home to re-establish the Czech Air Force with British Mosquitos and Spitfires. Then Stalin struck as Hitler had struck. Czechoslovakia once more fell under an iron dictatorship. There was an immediate and ominous black mark set against all Czech airmen who had fought with the RAF. They were “unreliable” as far as the communists were concerned. They loved freedom too dearly. Most of them were dismissed, many were arrested. So for a second time a considerable number of them fled to breathe the free air of Britain.

This time escape was not so easy. Many were captured and thrown into prison. Air Vice Marshall Janousek* who was knighted here as a reward for his services as Inspector General of the wartime Czech Air Force was trapped while trying to cross the frontier. He was sentenced in secret to 18 years imprisonment. His friends fear that at a new trial which has been ordered he may be sentenced to death.

HIGH HOPES

About 150 in all escaped, some with their wives and families. They enlisted at once with the R.A.F. in  the British zone in Germany and were brought to Britain with high hopes that their experienced services would be valued by a force in which they had gained renown and which is sorely in need of such men.

But what has happened! 35 of them several wearing the ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross are today at Cardington recruiting centre, sweeping floors, scrubbing tables, dishing up food, and cleaning lavatories for British conscripts. They are classed as aircraftsmen second class.

One was a squadron leader night fighter D.F.C. After the war he was Czech Air Attaché in Paris, then he commanded a regiment of Mosquitos in Czechoslovakia. He was dismissed 14 days after the communists seized power. Because he has some knowledge of photography his menial jobs in the kitchen at Cardington are punctuated with spells of duty in the photographic section.

MENIAL JOBS

Another who came to Britain was the leading Czech fighter pilot during the war. He was a wing commander. He won both the D.S.C. and D.F.C. He passed English, French, and Czechoslovakia college courses. With all his experiences and qualifications as a general duties officer probably unrivalled by any serving Wing Commander in the R.A.F. he was offered a commission as a flying officer in the equipment branch.

Two former R.A.F. officers have had to accept the rank of Pilot IV equivalent to Lance Corporal. Both were graduates of the Czech Officer School before the war; and one has passed staff college, and the other decorated with the D.F.C. was considered the best Spitfire and aerobatic pilot in the Czech Air Force.

Others who have been offered the rank of Pilot IV have refused and left the service. They prefer to take the chance of finding jobs in civilian life, and so their experience is lost.

One British Officer said to me “Can you wonder that Czech in the R.A.F are becoming disillusioned and depressed?”


A station response to the newspaper article is recorded in the station ORBs. Feelings must have been high for this to happen as almost all of the records simply summarise daily or monthly activities on a factual basis.


"Jan 1949: Re-enlistment of Czech Airmen – A Sunday Express article on this subject is attached as “b” appendix. The tone of the article is deprecated. All Czech re-enlistments received at this Unit have been given special consideration in that their individual problems have been given the closest attention. As they have normally been retained here in the Reception Unit for lengthy periods (varying from 6 weeks to 6 months) training courses have been instituted for them. All have been advised while they are waiting at Cardington for the Air Ministry’s offer for regular employment, to use the period to study the English language and the back-ground of British ways of living as they are likely to remain in this country for a considerable time. As many of them have been out of service for some time, in order to refresh their Service knowledge regular G S T including Ground Combat, and Assault Courses, and regular periods with the Education Officers, have been arranged. A copy of this training syllabus is attached as an appendix. They have also been detailed for regular periods of fatigues in common with all other volunteer recruits when available for such duties. Many have suffered acute distress and financial hardship leading to a considerable number of applications to the RAF Benevolent Fund for assistance. Most of these applications have been strongly recommended and in every one of these, in which they have completed their investigations the RAF Benevolent Fund have approved the recommendations forwarded by this station. Czech personnel received to date are as follows:                                

Ex - officers recommissioned 11,

Ex-officer aircrew appointed as airmen aircrew 8,

Ex-officers refused offers and discharged into civilian life 4,

Ex-airmen aircrew re-appointed 8,

Ex-airmen aircrew given ground trades 1,

Ex-airmen ground trades re-engaged 5,

Ex-airmen refused offers and discharged into civilian life 6,

Total 43."

I have no idea how these men fared and if they stayed in this country. Indeed I have been unable to find any names for these individuals. It is hoped that they had a good life here and received a warm welcome.

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*After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia Czech Pilot Karel Janoušek escaped to France then made his way to England where Czech squadrons were beginning to be formed. He commanded these squadrons throughout the war culminating in a knighthood from George VI and promotion to Air Marshall. He was also decorated by many of the allied governments.

He returned to Czechoslovakia at the end of the war but in 1948 fell foul of the new communist regime who were suspicious of his links to the west. He was arrested after attempting to leave the country and court-martialled and initially sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. However in 1960 he was released in an amnesty and in 1968 his convictions were quashed. He died in October 1971. In subsequent years a street and museum have been named after him in Prague along with a plaque (shown left) commemorating his service to his country.

**Grp Captain Hugh Spencer Lisle Dundas was thought to be the youngest Group Captain in WW2 and had a distinguished record serving as a pilot and was highly decorated. In 1971 he received a knighthood.

A belated plaque commemorating Karel Janoušek for his service to his country in WW2.

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Update November 2019.

This month I was delighted to receive the following e-mail from Tom Dolezal of the Free Czechoslovak Air Force Association Ltd. This organisation was formed to remember and honour the Czech personnel who served in the RAF during WW11.

“Hi, re your article re Czech exiles from the descriptions you have given:

The W/Cmdr. with DSO & DFC was Tomas Vybiral. The night fighter S/Ldr with DFC was probably Miroslav Mansfeld (he also had a DSO), both of whom were Battle of Britain pilots. More information about how the CzRAF were treated by the Communists in Czechoslovakia after February 1948 can be found here:

www.fcafa.com  (fcafa.com/2010/08/15/victims-of-communism-3/)

We are aware of several other CzRAF airmen who escaped to the west following the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, whose intention was to re-join the RAF. Some were successful but at lower ranks, while others declined to re-join at a lower rank, but whether this was at RAF Cardington, we currently are unable to confirm.

Hope that helps.”

My thanks to Tom Dolezal for making contact. Please visit their website it makes fascinating reading and is a fitting memorial to these brave men. It is hoped more information will come to light in the future. – Jane.

**Grp Captain Hugh Spencer Lisle Dundas was thought to be the youngest Group Captain in WW2 and had a distinguished record serving as a pilot and was highly decorated. In 1971 he received a knighthood.